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DLSPH hosts first hooding ceremony for doctoral graduates

June 13/2023

By Bonnie O’Sullivan
Banner photos by Dewey Chang

On Thursday, June 8, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH) celebrated its doctoral graduates in its first-ever hooding ceremony. Spouses, parents, grandparents and children cheered on their graduates in this emotional and intimate event as each was hooded by a supervisor, committee or faculty member. DLSPH’s newest IHPME and PHS doctoral grads were congratulated during this special ceremony in the sixth-floor theatre of the Health Sciences Building. 

“The process of having the hood placed personally by my program director Dr. Rob Fowler in front of my family was a highlight and a moment I am very grateful for,” says Dr. Vaibhav Gupta, one of the eleven honoured on Thursday. “My friend Dr. Paymon Azizi is another one of the graduates, and we completed much of our data analysis together at ICES. I was delighted to see him and his proud parents there and reminisce about our graduate program together.” 

The next day, doctoral graduates from the Class of 2023 returned to campus wearing those same robes and hoods to walk across Convocation Hall and receive their degrees among others graduating from DLSPH and the Factor-inwentash Faculty of Social Work 

But this moment on Thursday was designed to be only about DLSPH’s doctoral grads. 

“It’s a time to take stock and see this was a big thing,” explains Prof. Dionne Gesink, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, who originally pitched the DLSPH Hooding Ceremony. “When you finish something that’s really big, you need a sense of closure.”  

As students have faced restrictions and so many changes during recent years, DLSPH saw the creation of this new School tradition as an opportunity.  

Doctoral Graduate Vaibhav Gupta poses with his supervisor and family after participating in DLSPH Hooding Ceremony.

From left: Vaibhav Gupta’s father Sanjay Gupta, Doctorate Graduate Vaibhav Gupta, Prof. Rob Fowler, Dr. Vibhuti Gupta (UofT HBSc 2007, current lecturer in family medicine), and Vaibhav Gupta’s mother Anjali Gupta (UofT MHSc 2001). Photo courtesy of Vaibhav Gupta.

“Being invited to the Hooding Ceremony was especially meaningful for my family and I, as my convocation was cancelled in June 2020 at the height of the COVID pandemic,” explains Gupta. “This was a way to come back and reflect on my time in graduate school, and share in the enthusiasm of the faculty, students and families for a milestone achieved.”  

This need for closure can go both ways, adds Gesink. After four to six years of working together, supervisors develop a special bond with their students. The Hooding Ceremony allows graduates and faculty alike to take it all in and recognize that it is time for their relationship to evolve. 

Thursday’s ceremony welcomed another important ingredient in the doctoral grad’s journey: their loved ones. “The graduates can see the excitement among friends and family members during the Hooding Ceremony,” says Jabeen Aslam, Registrar and Director of Student Services.  

Gupta was proud to share this moment with his parents and sister on Thursday. “When we immigrated to Canada, and went through the struggles of a newcomer family, our goal was simply to survive, and we could not have imagined it would lead to a doctoral ceremony at the University of Toronto. I credit my family for their unwavering support and encouragement, and dedicated my thesis to them.” 

Doctoral graduate Peggy Chi poses with Prof. Dionne Gesink immediately after being hooded by Gesink at the DLSPH Hooding Ceremony.

“The hooding ceremony at DLSPH felt very special because we celebrated together in a space that felt like home,” says doctoral graduate, Dr. Peggy Chi (right). “It was warm, intimate, and lovely.”
Chi, photographed with Prof. Dionne Gesink Photo by Dewey Chang

The hood itself has great symbolic meaning. Those with doctorate degrees are presented with hoods to show their continued pursuit of knowledge and commitment to a scholarly life. It signifies admission into a community of scholars and must be worn with one’s traditional Indigenous regalia or academic regalia. 

While DLSPH is the only known School at the University of Toronto that currently celebrates its doctoral graduates in this way, many universities across the United States and Europe have been practising this tradition for hundreds of years.  

Starting in Europe during the Middle Ages, the hooding ceremony had practical purposes: academics required warm robes to wear in cold, damp libraries. The hoods were an important part of that attire, used for extra warmth and to shield the wearer from the elements. Today, the tradition has taken an entirely ceremonial role to celebrate doctoral graduates (and sometimes master’s) as they continue a lifetime of scholarly work. The hoods communicate the wearer’s school, degree, and field of study. 

DLSPH hopes that this new-to-the-School ceremony will become a tradition each year to honour new cohorts of doctoral grads. “It’s this special moment when you can take a breath and stop seeing yourself as a student and start seeing yourself as a professional and an expert,” says Gesink. 

Four graduates pose for a photo during the Hooding Ceremony reception.

Photo by Dewey Chang